(STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Purefoods Tender Juicy and Sta. Lucia Realty, stalled in their bids Friday, won’t be totally denied, both coming out composed in a do-or-die game last night to arrange a best-ever title confrontation.

The Giants and the Realtors knocked out the Red Bulls and the Alaska Aces, respectively, to advance to the 2007-08 Smart PBA Philippine Cup best-of-seven finale.

Before a roaring crowd of over 17,000 at the Araneta Coliseum, the Giants drubbed the Bulls, 83-71, while the Realtors clobbered the Aces, 92-84, living up to their top seeding after topping the double-round eliminations.

James Yap erupted for 28 points while Marc Pingris came through with a double-double game with 18 points and 14 rebounds, leading Purefoods to its 12th All-Filipino finals.

Curiously, the Giants gained their 20th final overall in the 20th year of the franchise.

Sta. Lucia, meanwhile, finally landed the PBA All-Filipino finals for the first time since joining the pro league in 1993.

Coach Boyet Fernandez rotated nine men, who responded to the challenge, bringing the team to their first finals since winning the 2001 Governors Cup.

“We’ve done many firsts in this tournament we might as well go all the way to win our first All-Filipino championship,” said Fernandez.

“After all our hard work, we made the finals. We’ll do whatever it takes so as not to let this chance slip away,” said team captain Dennis Espino.

In what’s already their best performance in an All-Filipino tourney, the Realtors marked it with several franchise records, including a streak of eight straight wins, 12 triumphs in all in the eliminations, an automatic entry into the semifinals, the Game Seven victory and a shot at the All-Filipino crown.

The Realtors’ previous best finish in the All-Filipino was third in 1995 and 1997.

“This is a product of real hard work. Everything started on our second-place finish in the Brunei Cup. We kept working hard in a no-nonsense training in the US. Then everything fell into place,” said Espino.

After the series fraught with drama on and off the court, Alaska coach Tim Cone finally took his hat off to the Realtors.

“Sta. Lucia deserved it because they really played tough. We’re not a team easy to break but they broke us,” said Cone. “That’s an ultimate compliment from our organization because we don’t think there’s a team in the league which works harder than us.”

With the Sta. Lucia veterans and youth brigade playing well together, the Realtors took control practically all night, holding the lead from start to finish.

Leading by as many as 20 points twice, the Realtors faced some pressure in the stretch but back-to-back three-pointers by Denok Miranda and Ryan Reyes eventually broke the Aces’ back at 89-80.

Reyes, averaging only 5.8 points in the series, endured a sore knee as he nailed three treys and led all scorers with 21 points that went with four rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Kelly Williams and Bitoy Omolon both came through with a double-double game while Espino provided the leadership and helped out with 17 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

Pacman pal brings home tickets worth P1.1 million By Abac Cordero Monday, February 11, 2008

The hottest tickets are in town, courtesy of Manny Pacquiao loyalist Cris Aquino.

The bubbly businessman and close friend of the Filipino superstar arrived last Monday from the US, carrying with him a wad of fight tickets and good news concerning Pacquiao.

Aquino, perennial flag-bearer in recent Pacquiao fights, brought home tickets to the Pinoy icon’s rematch with Juan Manuel Marquez, set March 15 in Las Vegas, worth $28,000 or roughly P1.1 million

“It’s better to be early than sorry,” said Aquino of his huge purchase 34 days left before the big fight. He brought home 30 tickets worth $600 each, 20 at $400 and 10 at $200 each

“These are for friends who want to get them in advance. We have good reason to buy them early because in the Internet, the nice $600 tickets are now going for as high as $3,000,” he said.

Top Rank president and Pacquiao promoter Bob Arum has reserved a section of the $600-a-seat area for Filipino fight fans “so they would look nice and solid” on TV cheering for Pacquiao.

Aquino was in Las Vegas for a recent gun show (he’s in the firearms business) then spent a few days in Los Angeles, hooking up with Pacquiao who’s now deeply training at Hollywood’s Wild Card Gym

Aquino saw for himself how hard Pacquiao is working for the rematch.

“He is really taking it to heart. He knows the importance of this fight, and the bigger opportunities that will open should he win. He’s not leaving anything to chance,” he said.

Aquino said Pacquiao told him that he already has “the key” to victory.

“But whatever it is, only Manny knows. But he kept telling me ‘nasa akin na ang susi sa panalo,’” said Aquino, adding that Pacquiao has limited his activities while training in LA.

“He doesn’t go out except for training and important business matters. He now knows how to turn down invitations when it has nothing to do with the fight. He has really changed,” he said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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